What is the first thing you do in the morning? The last thing you do at night? Your first action when taking on a new project? Your impulse when receiving good (or bad) news?
If you asked those questions to many highly productive creatives, they’ll have immediate answers. Not because they are micro-obsessive about their schedules, but because over time they’ve developed predictable rituals around key areas of their life and work. (I’m currently reading a fantastic book about the daily rituals of many great artists and writers.) Over time, they’ve learned that the messiness of creative work requires a supportive structure, lest everything devolve into chaos. According to Orson Welles, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Rituals provide necessary limitation on your focus, time, and energy so that you can delve deeply into the disorder of creative problem solving.
Rituals are important for several reasons. First, they provide solid ground when facing the uncertainty of your daily work. A ritual is like a bucket you can fill over and over again rather than trying to decide which bucket you should use. A good, solid set of rituals provide context for your work so that you can spend the majority of your energy focusing on the problems you’re trying to solve.
The enemy of art is the absence of limitations. – Orson Welles
Second, rituals help you forge healthy habits. When you return to the same ritual over and over, you are reinforcing the kinds of behavior you want to see manifested in your life and work, which creates a kind of infrastructure or supporting scaffolding for your creative process. Be mindless about the non-essentials so you can be mindful about the essentials.
Finally, ritual helps you achieve flow in your work. Just like your body adapts to a regular bedtime and a predictable sleep ritual, your mind will also learn to settle into regular rhythms and rituals related to your work. If you always focus on specific activities at certain times of the day, or if you dedicate blocks of time and energy for your ritual, you are far more likely to settle into a state of immersion in your work.
Here are a few rituals that have served me well over time:
– The first thing I do when I wake in the morning (at 6:15a) is prep coffee in my French Press and spend an hour reading, thinking, and writing. It’s become such a ritual that it’s now a habit. Most of my best ideas for my work come out of this time. I couldn’t function without it.
– I listen to the same music over and over when I’m writing. In fact, I wrote all of The Accidental Creative and most of Die Empty listening to Ambient Music Therapy’s Deep Meditation Experience. (I subsequently switched to listening mostly to a Philip Glass channel on RDIO, which is now my go-to.) When that album kicked on, my brain knew it was time to start writing.
– When I’ve signed my last few book deals (including the one I signed this week) I eat a packet of Ramen noodles for lunch. Why? Because I remember a time in my life when having $100 in my bank account at the end of the month meant I felt flush with cash. I always want to remind myself to stay lean, focused, and hungry, and this ritual roots me in a place thankfulness and gratitude. (Then… I go celebrate with my family!)
These are just a few of the sorts of rituals I’ve found helpful in my life and work. They ground me in what’s important, ensure that I have time and energy for what I care about, and help me create space in the margins of my (very) busy life.
What are your rituals? I’m sure that you probably have some. Please share them below. (I’d love to steal them!)